4.2.7 Intercultural dialogue: actors, strategies, programmes
Among the traditional minorities, the Swedish-speaking Finns and the Sami have a special position which is reflected in their interaction and dialogue with the dominant Finnish-speaking culture. This dialogue concerns mainly the maintenance and fortification of their constitutional positions, which, in the case of the Swedish-speaking population, is the "second national culture" and, in the case of the Sami, their position as a constitutionally recognised indigenous people. These positions have been, every now and then, challenged by some groups and political factions of the Finnish speaking population, which have considered the minority rights unjust from the point of view of the Finnish speaking population. This type of intercultural dialogue is reflected in two recent issues.
In the case of the Swedish speaking culture, the main issue for some years now has been the special position of the Swedish language in the school curricula. As the second native language, Swedish has been a compulsory language both in primary education and at secondary level. This has been seen by some groups as a limitation to free choice in language learning and as a hindrance for broadening the language skills of the Finns. The long-drawn debate led finally to new legislation in 2004, which removed Swedish from the position of a compulsory subject in the high school final matriculation exam.
The issue concerning the position of the Sami people had broader ramifications. The logging in the old forests of reindeer herding regions has been seen by the reindeer herders to endanger the growth of both ground and tree-growing lichen, which are the winter fodder of reindeers. The three additional – and in some sense actually main – battling parties have been the environmental NGOs (WWF Finland and FANC, the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation) and the forest company Metsähallitus, and the main wood processing Finnish enterprises. The main respondent in the debate was Metsähallitus, which has a legislative right to governing the use – i.e. logging – of the state-owned forests (12 million hectares of state land and water areas) and planning of their protection. The conflict led first to a field confrontation in Lapland where Green Peace was the organiser of active resistance to logging; and since 2005 there have been lawsuits at various courts of law and requests of decisions from the UN Human Rights Committee. It seems that the year 2011 will be a milestone in these conflicts, because already two major agreements were reached about the forest protection areas and protection time periods before Midsummer, one agreement between Green Peace and Metsähallitus and another between reindeer herders and Metsähallitus.
The monitoring and protection of the rights of the Roma and the Finnish sign language users have been carried out mainly within the framework of international human rights agreements and conventions. As in most of the host countries in Europe, improving the educational and labour market position and the social equality of the Roma people has been an "eternal issue", although the intensity of discrimination has been waning. The European Roma and Travellers Forum was established by the Council of Europe with the support of the Finnish President, Mrs. Tarja Halonen.
Intercultural dialogue concerning "newcomers'", their cultural rights and initiatives to support their projects and cultural activities has been carried out within the context of local and regional authorities, NGOs and cultural institutions and the media. However, recently, national cultural institutions have also initiated interesting programmes and projects to increase intercultural dialogue. In 2005, The Finnish National Art Gallery nominated a cultural diversity coordinator for the museum for a period of two years to improve intercultural dialogue between the Finns and immigrants living in Finland.
Several cultural centres, particularly in the metropolitan area have programmes to promote cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue and the Finnish Broadcasting Company used to run a programme called "Basaari" (Bazaar) until the end of year 2008 which aimed at deeper understanding of foreign cultures. Central government educational and anti-discrimination efforts are presented in chapter 3.4.2 and chapter 8.3.3.